Archive for the Halloween Category

Story Fragment: THE SACRED SCARECROW

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2017 by smuckyproductions

IMG_1126

Here’s a piece of a story that takes place in October – exploring what happens to an insular community when a man moves into their local haunted house, threatening to set off a curse that may or may not be real. Paranoia, violence and autumnal creepiness ensue; but this is just the beginning. 

Afternoon was slinking across the grass when the truck rolled away. The children stopped to watch on their way home. Speculation ran like a live wire across the block and into the network of streets, cul du sacs, from the low-rent ranch houses to the Tudors looming on the hill, all the way through Main Street where the shops had just started to close. Still, there was no sign of the new occupant. One brave girl even cried out, “Who’s in there!” to the dark windows; when no one responded, most of the children filtered out to go finish their homework. It was getting dark, after all, and that part of the neighborhood was undesirable after sunset. Only the most curious children stayed – and a quiet ripple of shock went through them when the front door opened to reveal a man’s silhouette, thin and unfamiliar, standing on the porch.

“Well!” he said in a bright voice that made them all flinch. “Are you the welcoming committee?”

He waited for a reply, and laughed when they just watched. “Oh, come on, I don’t bite,” he said. “I’m happy to be here after waiting so long, with the renovation and all. Such a pretty town. You all must like it here very much.”

His smile drooped when the children continued to stare, and he turned as if to go back inside. Then, from the back of the crowd, a reedy voice called: “What about the scarecrow?”

The other children stepped aside to reveal a pinkish boy in suspenders, wrinkling his nose at the new occupant. His stare was matter-of-fact, without a hint of apprehension, and it caused the man to step back. “The…” he started, then the grin returned to his face. “Oh, that old guy back there?” He pointed to the field, where the scarecrow stood, and had done since anyone in town could remember. Its cracked leather face, whose features were inexplicably accurate, tilted toward the children; gazing with deep sockets that didn’t accept light any longer. Even as the man gestured, the children made sure they didn’t look. They knew it well enough.

After a long moment, the pinkish boy said, “What are you going to do if it moves?”

Advertisements

Fragment from SERPENT SOULS: Smile

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , on October 3, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 10.51.01 AMIn honor of a Halloween season surrounded by the evils of capitalist pigs, here is a fragment from an older novel. SERPENT SOULS follows a naive young man who gets a job at his beloved brother’s exclusive country club, but he must fight for his life when its violent curse begins haunting him. It’s a supernatural mystery, violent satire, and nightmare of cosmic cruelty born from the American dream. This is a prophetic dream that the main character experiences before his first day of work.

A hallway – dark and thin. No sound but the quiet hum, electric or otherwise. Small line of light in the distance. Sneaking under a door. To find its source is the only option.

A door, impossibly tall, with no threshold. The handle is dented. It turns and the door creaks open – the apartment. Light is fluorescent, flickers on a constant rhythm. Corpses of a hundred bugs litter the casings. More victims flutter around the glow. Unknowing. Approaching.

A second door across from this one. The only thing illuminated; the rest of the apartment is shadowed. Something sighs and the door swings open. Vicious darkness. A small figure limps forward. A child, familiar but dirt-covered face, blue eyes that glisten and threaten to fall out, they are so wide. Viscous tears dribble down his face and leave clean lines in the dirt. The tuxedo around his body overpowers him. The slashed sleeves ooze lining and the shirt crackles with a brown stain. Only the bow tie still holds its color, vivid red.

The child opens his mouth. Wet gash in the dark. The words splash from his tongue.

“Don’t. Don’t. Don’t go there. Please, don’t go there…”

His plea falls to tatters, sobbing. He stiffens. Another figure, twice his size, emerges from the miasma. The new figure wears a tailored tuxedo, perfect condition, red bow tie gleaming. A wide salesman smile covers his chin, long teeth flash. The dark conceals the upper portion of his face. Hint of wicked eyes hiding in shadow. The smile is enough to give him familiarity, fresher than the child’s. But a familiar fear as well.

Two figures, miniature and full model. The large one places a hand on the small’s shoulder. Hulking gold rings shimmer, bleed with colors from fire-laden jewels, shoot prisms toward the invisible ceiling. The other hand unseen. Rustling in his jacket pocket. A hard, metallic sound, widening the smile, and the hand slips out, holding an intricate silver knife. Rubies wink from the handle. The knife rests against the child’s head and waits there. Curve of the blade smiles with its owner.

“Don’t don’t don’t,” the child blubbers. “Oh don’t don’t’ don’t…”

The large figure chuckles. “Don’t mind him.” Voice like a winter breeze. “He is not himself today. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

With a swipe of his golden hand, the child stops blubbering. Knife finds its mark and peels open the child’s throat. Skin yawns, thick spurt of blood over the carpet. The child tries to close the wound, begging in liquid grunts. It spreads wide as the killer’s smile. Veins empty. He falls to his knees. The head leans, nearly tears off. The killer stops it, holds it in place, plunges a hand into the stump. Digs for a moment until he finds his prize – the surfacing hand shines, glows, in spite of the blood. And something new as well, glimmering powerful things. The killer laughs in triumph. A wealth of gold coins in his hand, chime and clink as he displays them. More ooze from the stump as the child at last crumples to the ground. Dull thump, clink of metal.

The killer holds out his treasure as if offering to share. Temptation rises. He knows this and smiles until his cheeks split, revealing darkness beneath. The knife, still glinting, still hungry. It grins too. And swings forward as the killer says, calm and tender, “Smile.”

Halloween Dreams

Posted in Dark Musings, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2017 by smuckyproductions

IMG_1148

For the past few years, I’ve made it a tradition to reread “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” on October 1st. It’s standard to the point of being tedious, in some ways, but Irving’s prose is iconic for a reason: it perfectly captures the silent, ephemeral exhilaration of an autumn morning for me. As he states in the story’s opening, the enchantment of Sleepy Hollow calms and lulls the mind, so much so that it allows dreams to take on the sheen of reality. While this is an extreme example of the harvest season’s charm, it rings true. The blue-sky air is so clear on these mornings, almost fragile. It seems possible that anything might materialize within it, because it’s so empty – there’s an expectation that something has to happen.

Waking up on a calm autumn morning, when the mind has a moment to reflect on the uncanny stillness, is an unparalleled sensation. The air is so quiet that it demands reverence – this is a time for ritual and transgression, for crossing the boundaries into the unreal. It fuels the imagination, but sometimes in a morbid sense; mythology and religion have embedded themselves in our subconscious workings deeply enough to make us apprehensive. We are taught that these spiritual states of calm, of reverence, are something to fear; because they can’t stay quiet for long.

That’s what makes the October season so perfect for horror film viewings – there is extremely slim possibility that those stories hold truth, but the chance is still there, enough to make fairy tales and ghost stories more viscerally effective. Horror films require a suspension of disbelief, as they’re all built on superstitions or paranoia, unlikely worst-case scenarios becoming reality. The danger is thrilling – especially because we know that those forces don’t really exist, it’s just fun to imagine the what-ifs. Until suddenly they are real, and they aren’t so much fun.

The stillness of the October season allows for dreams, pretending, to lose incredulity – it isn’t so strange to consider that reality is bent, that spirits are waiting just beyond the veil, where metaphysical impossibilities are commonplace, rather than simple imagination. It drapes a shroud over logic and replaces it with wonder. But concealing the truth does lead to danger. That’s why we indulge in safeguarded fear, to tread with the possibilities and see the horrors that they lead to. You can always back out and return to calm reality, grateful that it was all a dream.

Autumn Fragment: CROSSROADS

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Autumn comes upon us tomorrow – here is a piece of a story called CROSSROADS, about a group of bored kids who occupy themselves with a dangerous, demonic game. It’s the time of year when we hear whispers in the air, bone-dry leaves tapping out code that something waits for us beyond the sky.

IMG_5748

Andy didn’t tell us all the rules at once – probably came up with them on the fly. He never wrote them down, and we never forgot them. “It only comes at dusk,” he said. “It needs those shadows to make itself real. Where it comes from, everything is shadow, beyond shadow. In the daytime or the moonlight, it’s just air. It can watch but it can’t do anything. So we have to bring it things right at sunset – so it can grab them up.” But also, “We can’t look right at it. In its real body – it’s too gnarly. Our brains would – BAM!” Fishface jumped at that one, and Andy cackled at him. Jenny hit his arm to make him stop – that laugh was ugly.

This went on for a few weeks, until the rules started to sound the same, and we were wondering what kind of game this was after all. We didn’t do anything different – still snuck into the movies, stole cigarettes, kicked trash around the newly-filled river – except we stopped going to the barn. No one brought it up, either, so we didn’t miss it. But we were still bored. Jenny started demanding answers. What was the point of the game? How did we play? Andy told us in pieces, but after a while we got the basics: we had to steal an offering, and take it out to the barn at sunset, and leave it there. If the offering was good, we’d get to live. But if it was bad, the thing in the dark would take us to its crypt and keep us there forever. Andy repeated this last part all the time. He never smiled when he said it. “Okay, sure, offerings – but when do we take them? Whenever we feel like it?” Jenny snapped one day. Andy glowered at her when she said it. “Don’t joke,” he said. “It’ll tell us when. We’ll know.”

When he said this, the game got interesting again. We all waited. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all, in case we missed the call. The wind – turning cold, brittle – might carry a slithery voice any day. Our teachers stopped yelling at us to pay attention, because we were listening, just not to them. Nighttime became something holy for us. In our bedrooms we stayed awake and tilted our ears at the empty windows. Of course, nothing happened, nothing came to us; though Jenny and Fishface sometimes talked about funny dreams, where they walked into the barn and fell down into a hole, but the hole was really a mouth that was about to clamp shut. Sometimes they woke up and their sheets were pulled off their bodies, they said. Andy chuckled, “That’s part of the game.”

It was toward the middle of September, when the leaves just started changing, that Andy told us the game had started. We were a little jealous – how come he got to hear the call and we didn’t? “Because it’s my game, turd faces,” he said.

Last time we’d seen the barn, it had been all lightning and rain, big blasts of thunder like drum beats. It set the right mood. This time it was a nice evening, a little cool, no stormclouds waiting on the skyline. A school night, too, to make it worse. The weather didn’t matter, Andy assured us – when it called, it meant business, gloom or sunshine. The problem was the offering, of course. Jenny suggested jewels from her mother’s vanity drawer. Fishface thought of hamburgers – “It’s hungry, anyway, you said.”

“None of that,” Andy snapped. “It told me what it wants.”

9 More Films to Watch on Halloween

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Halloween is upon us again! In response to a list I wrote up last year, here are a few more gruesome delights to conjure on this, the spookiest of days.

OVER THE GARDEN WALL (Hulu)

960

While really a miniseries, the accumulated episodes equal film length (about 2 hours); and you’d be hard-pressed not to watch them all at once. This is a gorgeously animated and brilliantly plotted piece of cinematic art. The color palette, full of browns and oranges, evokes autumnal perfection; and the supernatural elements are legitimately frightening. A philosophical, charming, scary and beautiful October treat.

BASKIN (Netflix)

baskinrev

Haunted houses are one of the foremost attractions of the season – paying good money to immerse yourself in a four-dimensional horror film. BASKIN is an actual film that looks, sounds and feels like one of these attractions, from the (dis)comfort of your living room. With stunning and colorful imagery, a bone-rattling score and hellish atmosphere for days, this chaotic descent into hell is an eye-popping blast.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Amazon)

curse-of-frankenstein-wrapped-monster

There are dozens of Shelley adaptations, and dozens of Hammer films, that are suitable for this list – but the Curse stands out. This is the film that started England’s reclamation of Gothic horror, in beautiful, bloody Technicolor. The images of corpses, desecrated graves, and finally the monster himself, are truly grotesque, especially considering the decade in which the film was made. It’s a ghoulish, brutal version of the Frankenstein story.

THE IRON ROSE (Shudder)

La Rose de fer (4)

One does not tread far into the realm of Eurohorror without hearing of Jean Rollin. He made his fame on erotic, poetic vampire films – such as Requiem for a Vampire and The Living Dead Girl – and this, while it contains no undead, is one of his finest. The plot is shockingly simple, with two horny kids stuck in a graveyard after dark; but Rollin’s direction creates a moody, existential work of dread that leaves its mental mark.

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Netflix)

a girl walks home alone at night

While not necessarily a horror film in itself, aside from a few scenes, Ana Lily Amirpour’s ingenious production fits the season perfectly. The gloomy monochrome and the badass title character create an atmosphere of cool loneliness, echoing the quiet hours toward midnight on the 31st. It’s not frightening, but phantasmal – the perfect film for a less scary sabbath celebration. And it helps that it’s truly original, unlike anything else.

HABIT (Shudder)

signature-6-620x348

Another vampire offering, this one more traditionally frightening. Larry Fessenden’s indie game-changer starts on Halloween night as a man (played by Fessenden) meets a mysterious woman who starts plaguing his life, sexually and emotionally. It’s a slow-moving accumulation of atmosphere, evoking the Urban Gothic grunge of New York, and also depicting one of the most uncanny, elemental vampires I’ve ever seen on screen.

THE BEYOND (Shudder)

the-beyond-4

Anyone who knows me well enough is aware that I am addicted to Italian horror films. Lucio Fulci’s cosmic, apocalyptic wackfest is one of the most fun offerings. Full of the walking dead, voodoo practices, disgusting death scenes and a sense of utter dread that sneaks up on you, this is a grand cinematic nightmare. It has all the creepy and gory flavor of a Halloween night gone wrong.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (Hulu)

the-house-of-the-devil-2009

Another Fessenden production, this time helmed by new indie horror icon Ti West. Not only was it one of the first ‘nostalgic’ horror films of recent years – it recreates 80s occult atmosphere perfectly – but it’s also wonderfully creepy in its own right. This demonic chiller uses silence, isolation and a mounting sense of wrongness to create dread; culminating in a grand climax of demonic evil. Pure horror fun.

BLACK SABBATH (Shudder)

Black-Sabbath-The-Wurdalak

There are several Bava films that could qualify for this list; but this one has Boris Karloff in it. What else do you need? On top of Karloff’s presence, this anthology film is stocked with amazing visuals, and is surprisingly terrifying (the final story will cause nightmares). Go for the Italian cut if you can. This is Gothic cinema at its best, and sets a standard for structuring anthology films (Italian cut only).

Short Story: OUT THERE

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2016 by smuckyproductions

A little mood piece about darkness for the Halloween season. 

OUT THERE

img_1967

The stars stared. Jem could see thousands of them, unshielded by clouds or pollution from the city. He wondered how many of them could see down this far – or perhaps the distance blinded them. But they are so big, Jem mused, that they can see as far as they like.

“Over here,” Jem’s father said.

He stood several yards away, at the edge of the street where the grass began. Winnie waited at his knee. Jem skipped closer and looked behind them, at the strip of subdivision. Its lights almost overpowered the stars, if you looked at them too long; but they could not shut out the mounds of hills, heaped on all sides. From far away, Jem imagined, these houses would look pitiful, and at any moment the hills could lean forward and swallow them. He blinked, cleared his eyes of electric light, and turned back toward his father. The flashlight he held revealed a patch of grass in front of them, and the beginnings of the forest. Otherwise everything was shadow – the stars glowed but did not illuminate. Jem knew that, when he stood behind the flashlight, he was a shadow, too. He kept himself there, wondering if he felt any different, ensured that he was only two steps away from the flashlight and reality.

“Go on,” his father said to Winnie. She perked up and trotted away into the grass, which half-devoured her. Jem’s father kept the flashlight trained on her without fault. He did not blink or flinch; in fact, Jem noticed that his hand bulged with veins, from the strain of keeping still. The beam did not waver, either – it cut a single hole in the dark, allowing the trees and rocks beyond to remain formless until sunrise.

Jem’s father had protested when Jem asked to go outside, too, and wait for Winnie to take care of herself. He said he did not want to deal with Jem being frightened in the dark. Their first night in the mountains, after being accustomed to the suburbs and the city where darkness was just a lower grade of light, Jem really had been afraid – he did not sleep for fear that the dark, so heavy and complete in the mountains, would break through the window of his room. But, when morning came and proved his survival, Jem realized that the dark was not an enemy. It allowed him to transform; without the watchful streetlights and windows, always keeping his body illuminated, he could become anything. He did not express these notions to his father, who would have snorted and shaken his head. He simply promised that he would not be afraid of the dark. Though the shadows were strong beyond the flashlight and hinted at moving shapes, Jem felt no fear. Besides, if anything should approach, Winnie would alert them.

She squatted now, glancing back at them with something like embarrassment, and marked her territory –she always did so over a small hole, once occupied by a fox. “Good girl,” said Jem’s father, almost like a command. Winnie straightened herself and trotted back, a bit faster than before. Jem’s father turned to follow, but Jem lingered and faced the dark again – did they have to go inside so soon? He felt the shadow on his skin, and marveled at how strong it seemed. His eyes strained to see detail and failed. A thrill wormed into his abdomen and worked its away up until he was grinning. Stay like this, he thought. Stay.

“What, girl?” his father was saying. “What’s there?”

Jem glanced up and saw Winnie staring at him. Her face was rigid, nose pointed at his head, or something behind it. The flashlight blasted into his eyes as his father followed Winnie’s lead. While his eyes danced with red and readjusted, Jem heard his father mutter something, a nasty sounding word. He looked where Winnie pointed, and his face was slack with dread.

The grass rustled behind Jem – a soft, inviting sound – and he turned to see what everyone else did. “Don’t,” his father snapped.

Jem would have disregarded the command, but he had never heard his father’s voice crack like that, as if he was being choked. Jem turned back to him and frowned in silent inquiry. His father waved a hand, beckoning, and Winnie took a step back. A low growl rumbled in her chest as she stared.

“Come here,” his father said, and the grass rustled again.

He walked toward the flashlight only to satisfy his father. The dark still felt calm and exciting on his skin. The flashlight was so loud in comparison. His father was shaking it now, as if flicking a whip. “Back,” he barked, not to Jem. “Back.”

Now behind his father, Jem turned to look. His eyes had quite recovered from the flashlight’s glare, so he was blind to the dark; and before he could blink away the light his father’s hand was over his face. “Don’t look,” his father cried.

“Why?”

“Because I said so.” It was not a demand but a plea. Jem looked back at the house; but slowly, long enough to glimpse something in the grass, whose movement was utterly wrong as it crept closer. The flashlight’s dancing beam did not allow for a more concrete view. His father continued to growl, “Back, back;” and something hissed, or sighed, in protest. Jem did not hear the sound so much as imagine it – no physical vocal chords could have produced it. He was suddenly glad that he had looked away.

Winnie had already raced back toward the house, and now his father followed, pushing Jem alongside him. The flashlight was weak next to the streetlamps. Jem took a last glance up, at the far away stars, and then the door slammed shut, and his father was coughing out a grotesque noise. Jem thought he might be laughing, maybe, and left him alone.

Neither of them spoke for some time. Jem’s father vanished into the bathroom for a while, where he continued making the noise, and Jem watched through the living room window in his absence. He could not see much beyond his reflection. It was possible that something looked back, and he would have turned off all the lights in order to see it, but then his father emerged, red-faced and sniffling.

“Why couldn’t I look?” Jem said immediately.

His father stared at him, as if not recognizing him. “Some things you don’t need to see quite yet,” he muttered. “There’s things out there that don’t leave you once you see them. That was one. You’ll have your time someday. But not yet.”

Jem nodded and pretended to understand.

“Promise me you won’t go out there,” his father said; his voice croaked again.

I’m not scared, Jem thought, but whispered, “I promise.”

His father smiled and murmured, “Good boy.” Then he retreated to his room again, shut the door, and locked it.

Jem stayed at the window and looked at his reflection. The glass made it look faded, uncertain, and small. He scowled and tried to see beyond. The darkness was still there, and would be for hours. Perhaps that meant the sighing thing was still there, too. He pushed away from the window and crept toward the front door. Winnie stared at him as he went, but did not protest. His hand fell on the knob, heavy and final; he would wait until his father started to snore, then he would go look.

Best Movies to Watch on Halloween

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2015 by smuckyproductions

THE DAY HAS ARRIVED! Movie marathons commence, costumes are fussed over, and legions of undead-for-a-day ghouls crawl the earth to celebrate Hallow’s Eve. In the spirit of this joyous and spooky occasion, here are my 10 favorite horror films to watch on Halloween.

It goes without saying that, for me, all of these films capture something about the essence of Halloween – the liminal autumn air, the dying leaves, and the electrifying sense of the impending uncanny.

  1. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

The-Night-of-the-Living-Dead

Trick or treating gone wrong: everyone comes knocking at your door, but instead of candy, they want your guts. George Romero’s visceral, paranoid and ground-breaking classic is a must for October. (That’s why MTV plays it every 31st.) It’s disturbing, suspenseful, and phenomenal for its introduction of the zombie trope.

  1. THE HAUNTING

the-haunting-220

From the brilliant novel by Shirley Jackson comes one of the scariest haunted house stories of all time. Fabulously acted, beautifully designed and utterly terrifying without showing any ghosts, this film is a landmark of horror. It reminds us that madness and anxiety are the true monsters. And there’s no better villain than a house that preys on those things.

  1. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

A70-1127

Controversial, to be sure, but in the right mindset, ‘Blair Witch’ is exhaustingly disturbing. Set in the autumn woods and featuring a great folktale as its backdrop, the true terror comes from the breakdown of the human mind. It’s an exercise in restraint – which is why many will hate it – but for those with whom it connects, the experience is pure horror.

  1. THE FOG

fog-1980

A perfectly simple ghost story, an eerie seaside atmosphere, and a score by John Carpenter – what more can you want? This film is calm and chilling until suddenly it breaks out in mist-shrouded horror. It’s perfect for a Hallow’s Eve sunset when things just start waking up.

  1. HELLRAISER

Hellraiser_onesheet_USA-1-500x756

One of the purest horror films of all time, Clive Barker’s cinematic debut is all visuals and world-building – and it does an amazing job at that. Disgusting without being tasteless, and featuring some of the most brutally scary villains of all time, this one is required viewing for the strong-stomached. Behind all the goo, it’s quite beautiful, too.

  1. THE EXORCIST

vAFeNGJ

Another example of pure horror. A genius work of cinema, this film attacks all the senses and also some of the basest fears. It takes no prisoners as it spins its tale of normality upended by pure evil, and what goodness means in the face of such a thing. Brutal, brilliant and bold – and, of course, monstrously frightening.

  1. SUSPIRIA

suspiria

With a terrific score and some of the most beautiful camerawork in all of horror, this Italian giallo is the perfect dose of surrealism for Hallow’s Eve. It shuns the idea of ‘plot’ and ‘logic’ in favor of a dreamy series of scenes, which crescendo into utter terror. This is one sick, bloody fairy tale.

  1. THE EVIL DEAD

evildead

The original cabin-in-the-woods movie. It remains one of the most flawed movies on this list, but it possesses (no pun intended) such intensity and non-stop brutal horror that the viewer can’t pay attention to mistakes – they’re too busy having a ball. Like a haunted-house video game on film, it’s an unprecedented blast.

9. TRICK R’ TREAT

51QUejxfV8L._AC_UL320_SR222,320_

Obviously. This one isn’t that scary, but it is one of the greatest homages to this holiday. With an onslaught of different monsters – from werewolves to zombies to a principal-turned-serial-killer – and a killer atmosphere, it’s hard to think of a better film to kick off the season. But…

10. HALLOWEEN

halloween_xlg

One cannot ignore the master. It’s simple, it’s slow-building, and you hardly see it coming, but this film captures the October spirit – while also scaring the sh!t out of everyone – like no other film out there. Eerie, heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and completely phantasmal, this is the quintessential Halloween film – just look at the title.

That’s all for now, ghouls! Go out and haunt the streets tonight. Get ready to be scared.